By W. T. Whitney Jr.
October 24, 2015
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government is under siege from business-oriented right-wingers. Voting on December 6 for National Assembly delegates will be a test of strength. The process pioneered by the late President Hugo Chavez from 1999 on created new realities for the many and they are the basis for socialist hopes.
Three recent reports offer specimen views of political experiences of people hoping for much who joined the process and realized expectations. They and presumably others acquired loyalties and now they are preparing a culture of resistance.
Venezuelans are having to endure shortages of essential items, long lines at stores, and increasingly worthless currency. Money is stashed abroad, distributors hoard merchandise, and profiteers sell state-subsidized food and gasoline in Colombia. The opposition uses Colombian paramilitaries and violent street demonstrations to promote destabilization. The U.S. government funds right-wing agitators.
In October, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) said Venezuela’s economy would fall by 5.5 percent during 2015; the International Monetary Fund indicated a 10 percent decline.
Pessimism is not universal, however. On August 31, 2012, workers at the Intercerámica factory in Barquisimeto heard the company’s owner, speaking to them on Skype from Madrid, tell them their factory was closing and would be demolished. The workers went on to occupy the factory for 19 months. Confronting blackmail and threats, they protected the machinery and installations. Only 19 workers were still there at the end.
Those few reactivated the plant on October 28, 2013 as “Alfareros del Gre” (Stoneware Potters). Venezuela’s 2010 Organic Law for “Promotion of the Communal Economic System” had created the entity of a “Company as Communal and Social Property” (Spanish-language initials are EPSC). The workers sought training and gained administrative savvy from neighboring collectives. Production began in March 2014 of red, tubular clay blocks used for housing construction – no longer flooring tiles and ceramic baseboard made for export. Output in October 2015 was 10,000 blocks per day.
There are currently 85 workers, most under 25 years of age. They expect that soon 150 workers will be producing 35,000 blocks each day. The government’s “Great Venezuelan Housing Mission” buys 70 percent of the blocks. Community councils take another 15 percent for their own building projects, and local hardware stores buy the rest. Earnings are shared equally. Pedro, one the original 19 workers recalls that formerly, “two hours each day were for the producer and six were for the boss.”
Officially, an ESPC is a “socio-productive unit” that, within the territory of one or more communities or communes, is created to benefit “participants and the collective through social reinvestment of surplus income.” Alfareros del Gre is a “direct” ESPC which signifies that “the means of production are social and communal property.”
The lives of Colombian refugees living in Venezuela are also looking up. Threats and forced dispossession of land and homes caused 5,600,000 of them to move to Venezuela over the last 40 years. Journalist Marco Teruggi reports that they’ve received 25 percent of the housing units of the “Great Venezuela Housing Mission and “111,000 [Colombians] are now studying [at the university level] under Mission Sucre; 60,000 students have completed the [remedial high school course] of Mission Ribas.”
Juan Carlos Tanus heads the Bolivarian Movement of Colombians for Peace. He told Teruggi that, “The development of Chavista culture has reached the saturation point” in migrant committees created through Venezuela’s Organic Law for Community Councils.” Tanus elaborates: “Chavista culture is when you go to a hospital to ask for help so that a brother, a compatriot with a calamity, might be cared for and you receive it at whatever level of attention. Compare this with the Colombian model: subsidized health care that doesn’t work, hospitals neglected, the population abused, people dying in hospitals because of no medicines.”
New arrivals in Venezuela “undergo cultural shock,” he said. In Colombia, “educational levels are so low and they deal with people one by one; here they speak of collectivization … The Bolivarian concept, a free America, emancipation of the peoples, collective construction: all this is different from what we learned in Colombia, which was about academic, individual, and citizen competition.”
The experience of Colombian refugees in Venezuela dedicated now to political change presumably extends to Venezuelans who also reject precarious living and who think President Nicolas Maduro’s Bolivarian government is worth fighting for.
In an interview with TeleSur, socialist Blanca Eekhout, a National Assembly delegate, had more to say about why the “Chavista” movement retains popular backing. “For the first time,” she stated, “we … are going into these elections with gender equality. In our primaries, half of our candidates were also young people under 30.” The interviewer explains: “political parties have to have an equal number of male and female candidates, and must alternate them on their lists.”
As regards the upcoming vote, Eekhout was explicit: “[W]e want the revolution to continue to have a majority in the National Assembly], because if the right wing wins, it will want to prevent the people from having access to all the revolution’s achievements, and to block their participation, to make the revolution fail.”